Jazz Funeral Traditions

GRADE: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12
TOPIC: Jazz Funerals
DISCIPLINE: Music General


In this lesson, students will watch a mock jazz funeral and learn about the cultural aspects of this tradition, from traditional band attire to song choices and which members of society are eligible for the honor of a jazz funeral. 



  • Identify which people are candidates for traditional jazz funerals and why.
  • Identify the key elements of a New Orleans jazz funeral.
  • Walk in step with the standard band and Grand Marshal choreography.



National Core Arts Standards

Anchor Standard 1 Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work.
Anchor Standard 2 Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.
Anchor Standard 10 Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.

Common Core State Standards

ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.



Teachers should review the lesson resources, media, and websites prior to launching the lesson.





  1. Play the video New Orleans Jazz Funeral Demonstration I on slide 3 of the presentation Jazz Funeral Traditions. Tell students this was a New Orleans jazz funeral. The New Orleans jazz funeral is a rich tradition that includes a brass band, basic choreography, standard band uniforms, slow dirges, and uptempo spirituals.


  1. Replay the video and ask students to pay attention to the songs, the attire, and the choreography as they watch and listen. After watching, have a discussion with students. Ask: What did you notice about mood as the songs changed?


  1. Show students the video Why are there Jazz Funerals? Gregg Stafford will explain why there are jazz funerals, describe who is traditionally honored with them, and elaborate on the general format of the jazz funeral: the dirges to escort the body from the church to the cemetery, the preacher’s benediction, “cutting the body loose” (leaving the body at the cemetery), and playing uptempo spirituals in celebration of the deceased’s life.


  1. Tell students there is a traditional uniform for the grand marshals and the band for jazz funerals. The grand marshal wears a suit with a sash and carries a closed parasol and a hat. Occasionally, the grand marshal will also wear spats. The band members wear black suits, black shoes, white shirts, black ties, and black band hats (white band hats are for all other occasions). 


  1. Display slide 5 to show students photos of grand marshal and band uniforms. 


  1. Tell students there is a standard formation for the grand marshals, band members, and dancers. Display slide 6 to show a bird’s eye view of the second line, followed by photos of actual jazz funerals. 



  1. Review the positions and choreography of the band members and grand marshals. Show the video New Orleans Brass Bands: The Role of the Grand Marshal. This is a standard formation for the dirge portion of the jazz funeral, where the body is being escorted to the ceremony.


  1. Now walk the choreography as a class. Reference the New Orleans Jazz Funeral Demonstration I video as additional support. Alternate option: Distribute Lyrics: “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” and Lyrics: “By and By” to the class and have them sing the songs as their artistic re-creation of a jazz funeral. Play the video New Orleans Jazz Funerals: A Vocal Interpretation to support learning the two songs.



  1. Have students explain when the dirge would happen and when the uptempo spiritual would happen in a jazz funeral, then walk the dirge steps along with a dirge recording, as a class. For the alternate option, have students sing the dirge (“Just a Closer Walk With Thee”) and spiritual (“By and By”) as a class.



Used with permission. Portions of this work are based on the National Core Arts Standards Copyright © 2015 National Coalition for Core Arts Standards/All Rights Reserved – Rights Administered by SEADAE.

© Copyright 2010. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Meghan Swartz, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
Mark Braud, Curriculum Developer and Music Artist Liaison
JoDee Scissors, Editor and Content Producer



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